Wednesday, December 18, 2013

An Advocate for the Straw-Boogie-Man

Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time knows that my goal is to think. My goal is not to promote a particular agenda or one side of an argument. I strive to be balanced and present nuance that others may overlook for whatever reason. In fact, some of the greatest compliments I have received are from people who tell me that my posts cause them to think differently about X, Y, or Z. Not that I have convinced them to change their perspective, but they see things a little bit differently. Or perhaps they no longer blindly reject a straw-boogie-man from a different Christian tradition before really hearing out their arguments.

Those are the successes. They are, admittedly, few and far between. I am driven by this disturbing trend in Christendom (and secular-humanism, let's not pretend that Christians have a monopoly on this market) to refuse to entertain any reasonable argument that is different from their own. A wall comes up, they return to a familiar argument that they (think they) know how to defend, and they never learn to think differently. It is a genuinely sad sight to behold.

The Straw-Boogie-Man

I know that I made this term up. It's a mash-up between a Straw-Man (lying about someone else's argument so you can attack it easier) and the Boogie-man (made up monster that will really mess you up). By viewing different opinions this way, it escalates the stakes while making it seem like your own opinion is the only one of value. In addition, by viewing new ideas as dangerous it effectively closes any possibility for growth and personal development. Think about it, have you ever learned anything that wasn't new or made you slightly uncomfortable? Here's a hint, if it wasn't new, you probably didn't do any learning. If you don't take the time to really understand a different viewpoint, you just come off as ignorant when you blindly reject it.

Artistic rendering of the elusive Straw-Boogie-Man by Skylarkk

I tend to like playing The Devil's Advocate to illustrate my point. Sometimes, I will take a side that I don't necessarily believe in myself in order to see how others will respond. Usually, I am disappointed. After some reflection (like I said, it's something that has become a passion for me) I have come up with several answers to the question: Why do people create this Straw-Boogie-Man?
  1. Failure to Listen
  2. Abuse of Sola Scriptura
  3. Improper Rhetorical Training

Failure to Listen

I am tackling this one first because it is the most common culprit. I don't know how many times I have had my little Devil's Advocate game thwarted by people who simply failed to listen to my objection. They default back into an argument that is comfortable, which is the exact thing I am trying to avoid. I want you to think differently, not to rehash the musty, old arguments you had before.

When responding to an objection, it is customary to, you know, address the objection with a rebuttal. Convince me that what I said was wrong. When you offer an argument that does not even come close to addressing my original statement, it shows that you didn't care enough about me to read/listen to what I said. All you cared about was winning an argument. That's not what I'm after. I just want to learn and teach.

Abuse of Sola Scriptura

This is the worst of all of these infractions because it equates to an improper handling of the Word of God. I appreciate that people want scripture to be the end of every discussion, the only problem is that people assume a simple reference without interpretation will make up for their logical lapse. When people abuse or distort a passage in order to win their argument is the only time I will get angry during a discussion—only then will it become an argument. There are at least 2 reasons this is a problem:
  1. It is used to close the discussion.
  2. It assumes that there is only one valid interpretation.

Case Closed

Since when did God's word close discussions? If that was the case, then we would have no Sermons, Homilies, Bible Studies, or Devotions. All we would do is stand up, read a chapter, and then close in prayer. The Bible needs to be interpreted. Clearly, we do so within reason—our God-given ability to make judgments based on logical connections. It is expected that we would apply reason to scripture in order to understand what it means. When we carelessly throw out a verse to end a discussion with no context, rationale, or application, it amounts to abuse.

One Track Mind

Scripture, at it's heart, is literature. One of the best tests of literature is it's versatility. The Bible is a magnificent piece of literature that can be viewed from several different lenses and valid, rational arguments can be made from it. The Bible also has tension built into it. These contradictions are efforts to explain spiritual truths in physical terms. When we close ourselves off from other interpretations all we are doing is limiting our own spiritual growth. Remember, the process of maturing is nothing more than expanding what we currently know.

Improper Rhetorical Training

I have seen many debates over the past few years. I have seen some between equally matched rhetoricians. I have seen some that were not so equitable. It is never a pretty scene when one party clearly outclasses the other. There have been cases when I have agreed with the overall point from the individual with poor rhetorical skills, but concluded that the other person was more convincing and therefore "won" the debate.

The problem is that some Bible Studies, Conferences, Sunday Schools, etc. are not addressing the problem of rhetoric at all. They are teaching that all you need is a Bible verse and man's cleverly devised arguments will not hold up (see second point). Clearly, that is not the case. Even books that try to build apologetic cases may, at times, fall short.

Bible Studies, Conference, Sunday Schools, etc. should never relieve the burden of reason. We should never check our brains at the door. We should bring our brains into the conversation. Too many times, conference-taught individuals only know how to answer a particular question a particular way and are unable to respond when the question is altered the slightest little bit. In that case, they are being taught what to think instead of how to think.

Don't get me wrong. I have been to great conferences and I have been to lousy ones. Some try to get you to think, others try to control your thoughts. These are two vastly different approaches. It is a major problem. It is a problem for the integrity of the faith. It makes Christians look like buffoons. I have no excuse for the buffoon. They have created their Straw-Boogie-Man and insist it is reality. That is a great delusion.


Looking back, I realize that I have been harsh. I have laid out a scathing set of accusations and I am sorry if my readers do not like it. However, these are my honest evaluations of the state of Apologetics in the Church as a result of several years of interactions. The sample includes peers, older brethren, and younger generations. People simply do not entertain different ideas.

That is not to say that there are no believers that are willing to use their intellect. I do not wish to portray a gloom-and-doom scenario. As I mentioned before, believers have contacted me to share their experiences of growth and pleasure with the way I cause them to think differently. I trust that I'm not the only source of "different thinking" in their lives. I trust that they use their brains to make connections that I do not prompt.

A very wise statement was shared with me a while back and it has influenced my thinking ever since. Someone told me to listen like I'm eating a watermelon: accept the sweet flesh and spit out the seeds. This applies to disagreements about scripture:
  1. Truly listen to the other person's points,
  2. Accept and acknowledge what you have in common,
  3. Seek clarity on what you disagree with, and
  4. Express disagreements intellectually, always remembering to be courteous.
That is what I expect from my readers. That is what I expect from myself. It is a basic courtesy and integral to the in the learning process.

Yes, I want to know what your thoughts are on this post. Let me know in the comments section below!

Christopher M. Jimenez. Powered by Blogger.

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